Uncovering the Hidden Value of Reciprocating Engines in Today’s Energy Markets


Electric utilities could be missing out on millions of dollars in value by using outdated grid modeling techniques. It is critical for a company to determine the optimum asset mix in order to remain competitive throughout the energy transition. Reuters, in collaboration with Wärtsilä, developed a report to outline the limitations of traditional grid modeling in the United States, explore how reciprocating engines capture value, and explain strategic pathways to a renewable energy transition. For more, read Uncovering the Hidden Value of Reciprocating Engines in Today’s Energy Markets.

Key Takeaways

  • A recent analysis by Ascend Analytics shows the use of hourly dispatch modeling for grid planning vastly underestimates the value of flexible grid resources such as batteries and utility-scale reciprocating internal combustion engines (RICE). This is due to the use of normalized weather inputs that fail to capture real-life grid conditions with significant levels of variable renewable energy and failing to drill down to the five-minute level where much of the variability occurs.
  • As variable generation sources increasingly dominate U.S. grids, flexible assets such as batteries and RICE units are better suited to compensate for the gaps in renewable output because they can operate only when necessary. However, since these flexible assets act on sub-hourly timeframes, the value they provide to the grid is not captured in traditional daily or hourly models.
  • According to the Ascend study, RICE units appeared to be the most expensive of three dispatchable gas technologies when using an hourly model. The use of five-minute modeling shows the opposite to be true: RICEs deliver greater value than competing technologies, providing ratepayers with a lower cost solution in a world of growing renewable generation and pricing volatility.
  • Due to the variable nature of renewable resources, sub-hourly pricing volatility is set to increase dramatically across U.S. electric grids. A move to more granular production models will assist regulators and network planners in selecting technologies, like RICE units, that are best suited to increasingly volatile pricing conditions.

Path to 100% Perspective

The research outlined in the white paper clearly demonstrates the need to update resource planning models to account for real-time, five-minute variability in high renewable systems. It shows that commonly used methodologies for grid planning in the United States may result in suboptimal outcomes for ratepayers.

Following passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the United States is about to unleash new levels of variable renewable energy generation. Consequently, there is an urgent need for regulators to be made aware of the shortcomings of traditional hourly and weather-normalized modeling in forecasting current energy system dynamics. Without regulatory pressure to use more granular models, there will be little incentive for U.S. electric utilities to embrace sub-hourly models. This will lead to increasingly suboptimal results and rising costs for ratepayers, while electric utilities invest millions in assets that are poorly equipped to operate in a low-carbon energy world. Given the forecasted rate of increase in renewables on the grid, the shift to capture these fundamental dynamics is one that cannot wait.